First-time homebuyers did much of the renovation themselves

Dark paneling, dirty carpet, and an awkward floor plan did not deter Sharon Aris and Andrew Gurney from buying this house, because they could see beyond the surface flaws.

They observed several positive attributes: a solid foundation, hardwood floors, and a reasonable price for the expensive San Francisco market.

Aris and Gurney had been house-hunting in the Bay Area for two years. When they saw the home in 2000, they had already lost out on bids for other houses. What they had won was an education.

“It was important to us to have a house that was structurally sound,” Aris says. “We figured we could improve the rest to our taste.”


Look for structural flaws

“When we saw this house, no one was going in the basement because the owners had a mean dog down there,” Aris says. “We insisted the real estate agent hold back the dog while we looked at the foundation.”

Figure out what you can do yourself

The couple bought several home-improvement books and started studying. They saved money by doing their own demolition and drywall installation, then hired a contractor for the rest of the remodeling.

Measure twice, buy once

The day they took possession of the house, Aris and Gurney went to the Home Depot and “went hog-wild and bought $1,000 worth of supplies,” Aris remembers. “When we got home, we realized that everything was the wrong size. We had to take it all back.”

Sketch out a floor plan for your remodel

The couple had trouble figuring out how many improvements would fit in their kitchen, so they hashed it out on a sandy beach. “We had a disagreement about whether we should put an island in the kitchen,” Aris recalls. “We resolved it by drawing out the floor plan in the sand.”

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